Reluctant racer heading to world mountain champs
When Richard Ford finished the Godzone adventure race in Fiordland a couple of years ago, he felt neither elation nor disappointment.
Instead, the end came as a weird sort of anticlimax for the 28-year-old from Drummond, an emotional plateau which will ultimately lead to the world mountain running championships in Argentina in November.
For many, Godzone represents the ultimate physical and mental test, but for Ford, the race’s pursuit event had left him hankering for something different.
“I don’t want to take away from the event, as a team we had an awesome time and it was a great achievement – but on an individual level it wasn’t the experience that I was expecting, I’ve had more character-building experiences on day trips hunting.”
It’s during those self-directed trips with friends that Ford has really tested his skills, away from the health and safety requirements that are a necessary aspect of events these days.
“Our baseline of what is appropriate or achievable is probably quite different to someone trying to run an event,” he admits.
Looking for another challenge, Ford linked up with running coach James Kuegler, who he had previously met at the Motatapu race, with the goal of finishing his 10th Luxmore Grunt last year in under two hours.
“He was quite shocked to hear that I would just literally jump off the couch and, if it was a nice day, I’d go for a big run,” Ford said.
“He said if I ever wanted to do it properly then I should get in touch. We put some goals in place to try and make it happen. Unfortunately the (Grunt) didn’t go that well for me, it was a bit warm on the tops. While I still set a PB, it was a long way shy of what I had envisaged and although our times on the hill section were similar, I certainly wasn’t in contention to catch Andy Good, who broke a longstanding race record.”
That disappointment spurred Ford on to enter the national mountain running championships in Wellington earlier this year, the first national athletics event he had participated in.
He finished fourth overall, and third in the senior men’s category, where Good also won.
That result, along with a win in the Miner’s Trail earlier this year, saw him earn selection along with fellow Southlander Buddy Small in the New Zealand team for the world mountain running championships at Villa La Angostura in Patagonia on November 15. Queenstown’s Sarah Douglas has also made the team for the second year in a row.
“It’s not something I’ve done a lot of, official races. I’ve done 10 Grunts and those sorts of events. Going away to nationals in Wellington was a daunting experience, so going to worlds is going to be a whole other thing. It’s definitely exciting, but it’s also unfamiliar and a bit nerve wracking, particularly being part of a team.”
Ford’s passion for running as a way to explore the surrounding landscape developed during his university days. The feeling of travelling fast over difficult, technical trails fuels him. He loves nature, and the ability to run in the bush provides a sense of freedom.
“I didn’t get into running to race. There’s something very special about moving at speed over terrain. It’s hard to put into the right words. It probably stems from way back as a young fella, where exploring somewhere new was always exciting, particularly pushing the boundaries on how far and fast you could make it happen.”
Aside from the trails in Central Otago on his back doorstep, Fiordland and the Takitimus are favoured places to run, and the Grunt and Moonshine Trail, one of Sport Southland’s annual events, are favourite races for Ford.
The surveyor is grateful for the support which his employer Landpro has given him with his running, and the continued input from Kuegler.
Landpro executive director Kate Scott said the company was proud of Cromwell-based Ford’s achievements.
“Richie has been an integral part of the Landpro Team since first joining us in 2011 as a survey student. During this time we have continued to support Richie’s interests outside of work, and we are very proud of his achievements in being selected to represent New Zealand in November.”
Dwight Grieve, who raced for New Zealand at last year’s world championships, has been another supporter, along with the rest of the Fiordland Athletics Club.
Ford has also had a close association with former Southlander Grant Guise, of Scott Running and UltrAspire, and new sponsor Ciele Athletics.
Ford has realistic expectations of the role he will play in Argentina.
“Not being even the fastest in New Zealand, I want to go over there and see what I can do for the team. Running my first ever sanctioned race at nationals, it’s a steep learning curve for me.”